Parasocial interaction with reviewers: The new way of looking at video reviews

Vecteezy/ Dheovano Al-Furqan  

Product and service reviews are one of the most popular video categories on YouTube. Many of you have probably watched a video review at least once, be it on YouTube or another platform. Have you however, wondered why some video reviews have a stronger impact on your purchase decisions than others? In our recent research article titled “YouTube It Before You Buy It: The Role of Parasocial Interaction in Consumer-to-Consumer Video Reviews”, Robert Ciuchita, Martina Caic, and I are looking at the development of parasocial interaction with authors of video reviews (aka reviewers) and the impact of parasocial interaction on purchase decisions of consumers (aka viewers).  

Before we continue, you may ask what parasocial interaction is. In simple terms, it is a one-sided feeling of connection that one experiences towards a media personality (e.g., celebrity, online influencer) in a mediated environment (e.g., television, social media). This feeling sort of resembles a situation when you meet a new person in real life and feel that you connect with them on a personal level although they might not even be aware of you (hence the one-sidedness). With time, this initial feeling of connection can grow into a parasocial relationship, resembling a one-sided feeling of friendship, but let’s not dive into that. 

What is our research about?  

In our article, we argue that reviewers can foster strong (vs. weak) parasocial interaction with their audiences through a video review by leveraging interactivity and self-disclosure in their communication. Interactivity occurs when viewers feel like they are engaged in a conversation with the reviewers. Examples of interactivity cues from the reviewers include them looking directly at the camera, asking questions to their audience, or referring to previous communications. Self-disclosure occurs when viewers feel that the reviewers share personal details, thus getting viewers to know them on a more personal level. Examples of self-disclosure cues from the reviewers includes sharing their personal preferences, their habits, or their own experiences with the product/service. To sum up, viewers are likely to develop parasocial interaction with reviewers because they feel engaged in an interactive conversation since they are getting to know the reviewers.  

Now you might ask, why do viewers follow the recommendations of reviewers when experiencing parasocial interaction? We argue that this happens because consumers trust reviewers more once they establish that special, albeit one-sided, connection with them. Think about it: would you trust a stranger you know nothing about and have never interacted with? Or would you trust a person that indicated a seemingly genuine interest in talking to you and shared personal information that revealed their competence in the topic? 

What did we do in our article? 

While trying to test our assumptions, we also had some fun. First, we looked at many First, we looked at all sorts of product reviews on YouTube whilst avoiding the “professional” reviewers. Our goal was to understand how reviewers made their videos appear interactive and what kind of information they disclosed about themselves. We learned a lot about what interactivity and self-disclosure looks like in real life and applied that knowledge to develop our very own video reviews. Specifically, we wrote different scripts, where a reviewer employed or did not employ interactivity and self-disclosure cues when reviewing a backpack. Then, we recorded different versions of video reviews, which were used to test our assumptions in a series of experimental studies with online consumers. 

What did we find? 

From the outcomes of our studies, we could conclude that, when consumers watch video reviews that have interactivity and/or self-disclosure cues, they are more likely to connect with reviewers and trust product recommendations. This confirms that video reviews fostering strong parasocial interaction are more likely to improve the purchase decisions of consumers in comparison to those video reviews that foster weak parasocial interaction. In a follow-up study, we went a step further and first asked if consumers were likely to buy the backpack, then showed them a version of the backpack video review and asked them for a second time if they were likely to buy the backpack. Our results showed that video reviews that foster weak parasocial interaction may make consumers less interested in buying the product, even if those consumers were rather willing to purchase before watching the review. 

How can our findings be applied in practice? 

There are several practical implications that we present in our article. Most importantly, we suggest that firms should be aware of how important video reviews can be in influencing consumers’ purchase decisions. When working on this study, we noted that very few online retailers (e.g., Amazon, and Nike) encourage consumers to leave video reviews. However, we believe that by making video reviews accessible, firms can help their consumers make better purchase decisions. Recording video reviews arguably require different skills and capabilities than writing textual reviews. If firms want to motivate consumers to share such reviews, they should show some form of appreciation. For instance, if consumers share video reviews on social media (e.g., Instagram), firms can repost them or leave a supportive comment. Furthermore, our findings are not limited to reviews. For example, we suggest that when producing brand content in collaboration with an influencer, firms should make sure that interactivity and self-disclosure are present in the communication to ensure that consumers connect with the influencer 

Finally, for all the content creators out there, we suggest using the findings presented in our article to gain more followers/views on social media. Video reviews provide information that consumers are willing to receive from complete strangers. If reviewers want those consumers to become their followers, they can use video reviews to foster parasocial interaction (i.e., leverage interactivity and self-disclosure in communications). Once parasocial interaction is established, it is more likely that consumers will become interested in watching more content created by the reviewers and potentially develop parasocial relationships.   

Some concluding words 

Feel free to check out the article (it is available to everyone through this link). If you have questions or want to engage in a discussion, feel free to reach out. Now, it is time to watch some video reviews and reflect on whether reviewers managed to connect with you or not. Enjoy! 

Valeria Penttinen

Doctoral Candidate